Vegetarian and vegan diets have some incredible health benefits. However, one concern about cutting animal products from your diet is the perceived lack of protein options available. Fortunately, there are many natural sources of protein available to vegetarians, and they’re easier to find than you think! Here’s a list of key foods to ensure every plant-based person is meeting their recommended protein intake.
This article is split into two sections: vegetarian-friendly proteins and vegan-friendly proteins.
Vegetarian-Friendly Proteins (Animal-Based)
Eggs are an excellent source of protein for vegetarians! One cup of cooked chicken eggs contains 17 grams of protein.
In addition to being a great protein source, eggs contain essential nutrients like healthy fats, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B-6, calcium, iron, cobalamin, potassium, and magnesium.
Eggs can be cooked or added to protein shakes. It is recommended that eggs are not consumed raw.
Whey Protein (Dairy-Based)
Whey is one of the most popular protein sources for vegetarians. Whey protein powder is also used by fitness experts, bodybuilders, and anyone looking for an additional protein boost. However, many people don’t know that whey is a protein found in dairy products.
Whey is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. Therefore, it is not a vegan-friendly protein source, nor is it suitable for those who suffer from lactose intolerance. Whey provides substantial amounts of essential amino acids in addition to high amounts of protein. Standard whey powder contains 76 grams of protein per cup.
Vegan-Friendly Proteins (Plant-Based)
There is a big difference between vegetarian and vegan diets. Although both are plant-based, vegetarian diets still contain forms of animal products. This includes eggs, dairy, and gelatin. Vegan diets are 100% plant-based and do not contain any animal products. Below is a list of protein sources for vegetarians and vegans!
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein, as well as other micronutrients.
There are a variety of nuts with high protein contents, but the most common are almonds, pistachio, and walnuts. These nutrient-rich nuts contain 5-7 grams of protein per 28 grams (raw). This makes them excellent sources of protein for plant-based nutrition.
Nuts and seeds also contain a plethora of other nutrients, including:
- Healthy fats
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin E
Nutritionists recommend adding nuts and seeds to your diet. The best way to consume nuts and seeds is unblanched, raw, and without other additives (like salt or sugar).
Soybean products: Edamame, Tempeh, and Tofu
Contrary to popular belief, soybeans are a whole source of protein that contain essential amino acids. For those without intolerances, soybeans can be added to your diet to promote whole body health. These three soybean products contain 10-19 grams of protein per 100 grams (cooked).
Tofu: Made from soybean curds, tofu is created using a slight fermentation process. Plain tofu has a bland taste that can be spiced up using sweet or savoury sauces.
Tempeh: Similar to tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans pressed together in a patty. The main difference between the two is that tempeh has a notable nutty flavor and is often prepared slightly crispy.
Edamame: Edamame is often served in Japanese restaurants as an appetizer. This tasty snack is considered the holy grail for vegetarians. Edamame beans are actually immature soybeans. They are prepared through a light steaming process and often served with rock salt.
Soy milk is an excellent dairy alternative that’s plant-based and high in protein. Soy milk is made from soybeans and combined with essential vitamins and minerals. Plain soy milk contains 7 grams of protein per cup. Fortified soy milks are often rich in:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
Soy milk comes in a variety of flavors and styles. We always recommend reading the nutritional information on the back of the carton to see which product is right for you. Many soy milks have added sugar, so be sure to choose one with less additives.
Protein can be found in almost all fruits and vegetables, but there are only a few which contain a notable amount. The best vegetable-based proteins come from:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
These protein-rich vegetables contain 4-5 grams of protein per cup (cooked). The best part about these vegetables is that they are low calorie and taste delicious! They also contain other essential vitamins and nutrients, as well as fiber, which can improve your digestion.
Lentils, Beans, and Chickpeas
Lentils, beans, and chickpeas contain an astronomical amount of protein - almost as much as meat!
Lentils: There are 18 grams of protein per cup of lentils (cooked). This makes them an excellent protein source for vegetarians. Lentils are also a good source of minerals like folate, manganese, iron, and antioxidants.
Beans and Chickpeas: Protein-rich beans contain roughly 15 grams of protein per cup (cooked), placing them just below lentils. Similar to lentils, beans and chickpeas are high in complex carbs, iron, fiber, phosphorus, folate, potassium, and manganese.
Lentils, beans, and chickpeas are known to help lower blood pressure and control blood sugar levels.
Nutritional yeast is becoming more popular in modern cooking, especially as a source of protein for vegetarians. This vegan-friendly protein source can be added to any snack or meal to give it a nutrient boost.
Nutritional yeast has a natural cheesy flavor, which makes it a great addition to pasta dishes, tofu, and even snacks like popcorn. Nutritional yeast contains 7 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein per 28 grams.
Fortified nutritional yeast can be purchased for additional benefits like magnesium, manganese, zinc, and B vitamins (including B12). Not all nutritional yeast is made the same, so be sure to read the information on the packaging!
Quinoa is often confused with ancient grains and lumped in with common grasses. However, this “pseudocereal” is gluten-free and an excellent source of protein for vegetarians. Quinoa contains 8-9 grams of protein per cup (cooked).
Quinoa can be cooked whole or ground into flour for baking. Quinoa has a distinct nutty flavor and a texture that some people dislike. However, it can be served hot or cold, and is packed with nutrients like protein, complex carbs, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.
Wild rice is another great vegetarian protein source. Wild rice contains an additional 50% more protein than long-grain rice. Because of this, wild rice has become a staple for most vegetarian and vegan diets. There are roughly 7 grams of protein per wild rice (cooked).
Wild rice is farmed and sold in its natural form - unlike white rice which undergoes a rigorous process before it hits the shelves. Wild rice retains natural bran that holds the majority of the nutrients. This bran is a known source of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, and B vitamins.
For more information on the best sources of plant-based proteins and other nutritional tips, check out our blog! Our nutrition experts provide insight on personalized nutrition, nutrigenetics, diets for chronic conditions, and more.
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